Published online by Cambridge University Press: 24 September 2015
This article explores how the prolonged and erosive deindustrialization in China's struggling state-owned enterprises (SOE), an inevitable result of the neoliberal shift in industrialization policy from socialist import-substitution industrialization to globalized export-oriented industrialization, has changed workers’ perceptions of themselves and their work. Based on in-depth interviews with workers and participant observation in one enterprise—Nanfang Steel—this study describes how what it means to be a worker has changed over two generations of SOE workers. The “glorious” identity of the worker, promoted by the state during the Maoist era, and emphatically proclaimed by elder workers despite its internal limitations and contradictions, has been dismantled by the neoliberal reform and has instead metamorphosed into a newly developed and “stigma-laden” cultural identity created by contemporary hegemonic discourse and then bitterly internalized by currently employed younger workers.
My greatest appreciation goes to these senior workers in Nanfang who warmly and trustfully shared their stories with me. I would like to thank Mahua Sarkar especially for her insightful comments. I am also grateful to Frederic Deyo, Leslie Gates, John Chaffee, and József Böroöcz for their encouragement during my writing process of this paper. I also thank the editors and the anonymous reviewers of ILWCH for their constructive comments. Finally, I wish to acknowledge the generous support of the institute of IGK at Humboldt University, Berlin.
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